Marketing Resumes…what recruiters like to see

My tech recruiting pals Gretchen and Zoe have quite a dialog going on regarding what they like to see on resumes. Some of what I am seeing on their blog applies to marketing resumes, some doesn't. For the most part, a marketing resume is a different animal...OK, it's not an's a plant...definitely a plant...well, not really a plant so much as a...oh, never mind.

So, thought I'd try to offer some similar advice on “the marketing resume”. Keep in mind, this is just the opinion of one recruiter (that's me) and just because thousands of other recruiters agree with me doesn't mean it's fact. ; )

1) The third-person resume: a lot of recruiters don't like these. Mostly, I consider that these recruiters haven't hired consultants before. Heck, I even used to write third person resumes for some of our consultants at a previous company. And it was always a little funny referring to Mr. So-and-So after you've seen him at the Holiday party talking to the punch bowl. Anyway, the third-person resume doesn't bother me so much as it shows me that either 1) this person is a consultant and wants to stay a consultant or 2) this person didn't take the time to tweak their resume. If you are the former...go for it. But if the latter, I would recommend taking the time to make the changes.

2) Buzz word bonanza: You know what I'm talkin' about. These are the people that “drove the strategic direction of the company through out of the box thinking, realizing a new paradigm while creating efficiencies through process re-alignment...blah, blah, blah.“ And when I see this I think “BUT WHAT DID YOU DO?“ Often, I am concerned that someone's attempt to appear strategic might be masking the fact that they really aren't. Let the work speak for itself, especially if you have results. For example, if you led a segmentation project that resulted in your company focusing on a new customer base and that increased profits significantly, let me know (actually, send me an e-mail at right now!). As much as you have heard about how smart Microsoft employees are, I think the best thing that can be said of us is that we know how to get things done (OK, smart is good too). Show us that you know how to get things done as well.

3) What is your product? So speaking strictly from the standpoint of recruiting for Software Marketing (actually, that's pretty much the standpoint I'm always speaking from), we want to know what your product is. Think about this scenario. I have 3 candidates that pretty much have the same job. Each is responsible for the go-to-market strategy of a new product, each works with their distribution channel to ensure sales readiness and that they have the right partners in place. Candidate one works for a technology company working on product X, in a market that Microsoft is involved. Candidate two works for a consumer packaged good company, their product is a new brand of cereal. Candidate three works for a company that I have not heard of before and I'm  not really clear as to what the product is. Candidates one is likely to get a call for a role in a product group that aligns to the same market space as they have been working in. Candidate two may also get a call, because they have specific expertise in the consumer marketing space. With candidate three, it's really hard for me to get that resume in from of the right person because I don't know what the product is.

4) “I” versus “we“: Teamwork is important, but so is being a valuable individual contributor. Often, I see resumes written as if they were written for a team. “We“ did this, “we“ did that. It can give the impression that the individual didn't have a specific impact on the project or work. When writing about the work of a team, make sure it is clear what you were responsible for and what your relationship is to others on the team.

5) Formatting: This is probably the biggest pit-fall of resume writing these days. You write a resume that looks fantastic on your computer, but by the time the recruiter views it, it's all messed up. This could be because of how the document was saved or because the recruiter's applicant tracking software converted the file into a .txt and all of your hard work formatting went out the window. The worst scenario is when I receive a resume that has been saved in “mark-up“ view. I can see the entire thought process the candidate went through writing the resume...what was crossed out and notes the candidate made while writing the resume. It's a good idea to test out your resume format. Send it to yourself via e-mail...better yet, send it to a friend to look over. Save it as a .txt file and check out how it reads. You can send both the .txt file and the (ideally, for us) .doc file with your resume submission. The .txt file is what we keep in our applicant tracking system.

6) Things you may have that I don't need to know about: an objective (especially if your objective doesn't match the open position), family information, height, weight, birthday, marital status, social status, religious affiliations, political offiliations, hobbies (I might recommend exceptions here when your hobby really represents a valued competency that an employer might be interested in). We know people have these things, but the question is the relevance to their employment application. While it may be traditional to include some of these things on your resume if you are applying for a position in another country, it is not traditional here in the US. At the very least, you save some space by leaving these things off. You can also leave off “ References provided at your request” or anything similar. It's implied.

7) Beyond spell-check: While spell check picks up the big mistakes, word choice errors still often make it through. And spell check doesn't check for clarity and relevancy. Before you send your resume to any companies, it's a great idea to have a friend go over your resume with a fine-toothed comb. Even better if the friend has the same or similar job to yours. Small errors in grammar, punctuation and word choice catch the eye of recruiters. And you want your resume to stand out for good reasons.

8) Keywords: Recruiting is a keyword game. OK, that's over-simplifying things a bit, but of you want to get your resume into the right hands, having the right keywords really helps a lot. Think of all the different ways that recruiters use keywords to find you:

                              -searching an on line job board...recruiters use keywords

                              -searching their applicant tracking system...recruiters use keywords

                              -searching for “passive“ candidates on the internet...recruiters use keywords

Many companies even have software that automatically matches incoming resumes to job descriptions using keywords. Not sure which keywords are right for your line of work? Search company job postings. See some roles that sound like yours? Pick some appropriate key words off the description. Look at the resumes of colleagues, at your company and at others and use their keywords.

Now here's the tricky thing with marketing resumes, as opposed to tech resumes. You need to work the keywords into the body of the resume (versus dropping them into a skills or tech summary) in the appropriate places. Try to avoid buzzword overload by scrunching them all together.

9) Functional or chronological?:  Just about every recruiter I speak with, when asked about resume pet peeves, lists off functional resumes. You know the kind that lists skills by categories (project management, negotiating, management, strategy, etc.) and then lists employers/titles/dates at the end of the resume. Problem is, we can't tell where the candidate did the work, in what context, for whom and for how long (which is exactly the info the recruiter wants when looking at your resume in the first place).

10) Make it as easy as possible for the recruiter to reach you: Today, with the constant use of the internet (e-mail specifically) it is possible, if not likely, that your first person-to-person conversation with a representative of a company will be during a phone interview. Recruiters generally use your resume to decide whether there's a potential fit and then use e-mail to schedule the phone interview. Under these circumstances, I'm puzzled when I receive a resume without a contact e-mail address (a resume blog would be an exception as recruiters can contact the candidate using their contact link). Often, I see names and contact info in the header or footer of a resume. In our “as paperless as possible“ environment, recruiters often do not print out resumes and requiring the few extra clicks from a recruiter in order to view your name and contact info in the header/footer, makes it that much less likely that you will get a call right away. Make it as easy as possible for the recruiter to reach you quickly.

11) No dates: First thing that crosses my mind when I see a resume with employment or education entries without dates is this: “are they trying to hide something?“ and trust me...the recruiter is going to ask. Gaps in employment should be explained (if not in the body of the resume, in the cover letter/e-mail). Took time to raise a family, to travel, to spend with an ill relative? Acknowledge the time away without giving too much unnecessary detail. For example: Next to the dates, put “personal sabbatical” or “freelance work” or “world travel“.  We realize that people take time away from the workforce for very good reasons. You just want to make sure that we know that it wasn't just an omission on the resume.

Also, include dates with regard to education (at least the year completed). When dates are omitted from the education section, it is often unclear as to whether the degree was obtained. If the degree program was not completed, feel comfortable stating that (X number of credits toward degree, etc.). Many companies do background checks and educational credentials are almost always included. It's better to state this up front than to have the recruiter come back to you and ask.

12) Cover letter: I see people take a ton of time to put together a really slick cover letter. You are marketing professionals, after all. So you may ask how often I thoroughly read a candidate's cover letter and to be completely honest with you, the answer is that I rarely do. I want to get right to the resume and see what the person is all about. I will go back and read the cover letter under a few circumstances: first if it's not clear to me what kind of position the person could be applying to (and that's not to say that it always matters...I'll call candidates about any position I think they are a fit for and might be interested in regardless of what they applied to). Second, if there are gaps in employment or any lingering questions I have after reading the resume. If you made a significant career shift, took a bunch of time off, the cover letter is a great place to fill me in.

If I think of any more resume “dos and don'ts“ I'll definitely provide them here. In the meantime, if you have questions or opinions, please feel free to ask. You might even see some of the other Microsoft Marketing Recruiters chime in here ; )

Comments (27)

  1. Naturally, as a recruiter, I’ve been ranting about resumes on my blog as well. Here’s something you might mention: when the recruiter calls you in spite of your lousy resume and starts asking you to fill in the blanks with him, don’t get huffy because you feel like you’re being cornered. You are being cornered but you have no choice. If you’re interested in the job, help him define your dates and responsibilities.

    There is also the issue of people responding to your resume. If you’ve posted your resume or sent it out for a specific job – get voice mail. The last thing anyone should get is a busy signal on your phone. And, if you have relatives at home who don’t speak English, make sure you have an alternate number on your resume. And, if they do speak English, let them know that calls from companies and recruiters might be coming in and teach them how to handle them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    John Porcaro on Marketing resumes

  3. Chandramouli says:

    Good work and methodology

  4. Thanh Nguyen says:


    Very good comments on resumes. You got me inspired so I dusted off my resume recently and am wonder if you or other people following this post would comment on my resume. Besides I am away from high-tech the last couple years and really missed it so it’s a good way for me to get ready to get back in high-tech w/ the updated resume.

    I am attempting to put the link in here but I am not sure what would show up so I am going to try it a couple different ways:

    <a href="">Thanh”>">Thanh Nguyen Resume</a>

  5. Heather says:

    Thanh-It looks really good. I think you pretty much followed all of the rules (at least my riles anyway). What is especially good about your resume is that when I read it, I understand exactly what you do AND what your company does (so many people forget to describe their company). Also, I think you were able to highlight a particular strength, which is prior tech experience. Nice job.

    You’ll have to let me know if you get lots of phone calls from your resume blog!

  6. Thanh Nguyen says:

    Heather… Thanks for the positive comments… As I look to get back to high-tech marketing, here’s my acid test: is my resume strong enough to make it to the hiring manager at Microsoft?

  7. Heather says:

    Thanh-I’m not sure you should use us as your acid test as we are super selective in the experience we look for in peoples’ background. And generally we are hiring people that are coming out of similar roles at other companies. I really wouldn’t encourage someone to try to make a career change and join Microsoft at the same time. Advice I would give you is to build on your prior product management experience. Find a company in the same industry space. They will see the value in that previous experience and you can continue to build on that. Then, down the road definitely contact Microsoft; once you’ve been working in product management again for a while.

  8. Judith Williamson says:

    Dear Heather,

    Your comments above are very interesting, but why did you choose to use black type on a dark grey background???? Virtually unreadable I’m afraid!





  9. Hardik says:


    heather can u pls change the txt color?

    btw:-u seems very strict person then grethcen ;)(dont mind pls)

  10. skkygirl says:

    Great info on resumes!  I like to hear how recruiters perceive them.  As far as dates go, are stating the years sufficient or do you want to see month/year?


  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    skkygirl-I’d use months and years. Using just years could make it look like you weren’t there very long and are trying to make it look longer (and starting a job in January of a year and starting it in December of the same year aren’t really the same). I think the exception is if you have been someplace for years and it’s your current employer (for example, 1196-present). In that situation, I imagine a recruiter wouldn’t mind as much. Hope that helps!

  12. Janice Bartel says:

    Dear Heather,

    I just "re-vamped" my multi-industry chronological resume by finally converting to the functional format last week.  It looked so much better and I’m able to keep it within one page…I had high hopes for it.

    My chronological resume, was overloaded with jobs, confusing, and failed to clearly identify my niche.  

    Functional seemed the appropriate move to put my actual experience in context for a position I would not only fit in, but excel at.  I am dismayed to hear the recommended functional format(for a non-traditional work history) is such a turnoff to recruiters.

    My unintended non-traditional resume:

    I started in Telecom in 2000, suffered 3 layoffs in 3 years, the last preceded by me and my car being totaled in a rear-end collision…which landed me in therapy 5 days a week for 6-7 months.

    Later, I took a job at Sak’s, went back to school FT, did contract event promotions & management, later taking a FT marketing job in a "stable/safe" industry & company last year.   This old-fashioned materials handling company hired me to (60%) manage their "database".  After prepping data for a year while they finalized the CRM purchase, last month I was laid off in "a restructuring move" that included cutting the CRM plans.

    I’m a great employee, put myself through a great private school, and my worst fear is being under-utilized at my next company or winding up in the unemployment industry of the year again.  

    I want to be given a fair chance and not be forced to be judged as a "book with a blemished cover" from non-performance-related lay offs.  Before and after my first two layoffs, I was inundated with recruiter’s calls stating I had made it to their "golden round" of candidate’s resumes and would invariably get a call back for a second interview if not the job.

    I’m completely open to following the functional with a chronological version including a detailed job application sheet to fill in all the details.  

    I can utilize your advice and explain gaps, include month/year data, but is chrological my only option? Functional seems a better option for clarity and being succinct.

    What are my options for accurately sharing my actual experience without confusing & be-laboring recruiters?  Or worse, being pigeon-holed as a sub-par candidate?


  13. D says:

    Great! Finally something from the recruiters POV

    Another problem I realise is a lot of folks put in non-factual details in their resums. And I know for sure, they go on to get great jobs…Recruiters MUST verify facts on previous employers and achievements!!

    Especially super-human ones!

  14. HeatherLeigh says:

    Janice – great questions. You know, you could do a combination of functional and chronological. I would just keep in mind that with every functional peice you put on your resume, the recruiter wants to know where, when and for how long. If you could still include that along with the functional format, I think it would be OK.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the recruiter needs to select your resume in order for you to get to the stage where you are filling out the application. Oftentimes, you won’t get the opportunity to use the application to explain your work history.

    I see the functional resumes as more of a marketing play. If you arne’t getting the calls from the cnronological one, I can understand the desire to go the functional route. They are just a little more vague.

    You know, networking yourself is probably especially important for someone in your situation. That would allow you to communicate your story without having to feel the need to sell yourself with the functional resume.

    Have you experimented with posting 2 different versions online? I don’t know that I have ever heard of someone doing that but you coud see which one gets the most responses.

    D – agreed. Employers should verify via reference checks.

  15. Heather posted her thoughts on resumes , and you’ll notice they are different (and even contradictory)

  16. srinivas says:

    send a model resume of marketing advt for print media

  17. HeatherLeigh says:


    I don’t provide model resumes. I’d recommend searching the internet for the resumes of people who are working in that space and use those resumes for inspiration and ideas. GOod luck!

  18. chemonium says:

    Hi Heather

    Thanks for the insight. I worked at Microsoft for 14 years before the round of layoffs this year and am now trying to do the opposite of another poster–get into other companies. Do you think having a big name like Microsoft on a resume gets attention, or does it not matter?

  19. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hi chemonium,

    I definitely think that it is an attention-getter. There is some folk-lore (deserved or not…you decide) on how rigorous our interviews are and how intellectually challenging the work environment is. So the name will cause the recruiter to think that you have to ber smart to hae worked at MS (especially for 14 years).

    But all the other stuff on the resume needs to work too. All the rules apply, I just think that frequently, you’ll catch the eye of recruiters first. Recruiters at competitive companies generally search for the names of their competitors on resumes. It’s a challenge for tech companies bc just seeing "Microsoft" on a resume could simply mean that the person used MS techs. So if you were in Redmond, I’d definitely recommend you using the location on each of your entries. Also, refer to the company as "Microsoft Corporation." That help recruiters weed out the folks using Microsoft technogies and weed-in (?) those that actually worked here.

    And I am sure I don’t have to tell you to try to avoid Microsoft acronyms as much as possible.

    Hope your search goes really well! Let me know if you have other questions!

  20. chemonium says:

    Hi Heather. I suppose you guessed that this is not my real name!

    I do have other questions. If you were looking for a marketing candidate, what keywords would you search for (assuming you do primarily keyword searches) and what if the potential candidate had marketing experience but job titles did not reflect that experience?

  21. Marnie says:

    Hello there Heather, Would you suggest putting Mensa membership on your resume or leaving it off?

    Thank you.


  22. HeatherLeigh says:

    No worries about the name. I only care when people are flaming me or other people. So a secret identity in this case is alright.

    As far as the key words, I think the best thing you can do is to go to the career sites of some of the companies you want to target in your search and read the job descriptions for the relevant positions. It will give good insight into how they talk about that kind of work and the recruiter is very likely to lift some of those key words for their search.

    Also, I think it’s perfectly fine to describe your roles so that the title makes sense. For example, the "program manager" role; which means very different things across Microsoft. I’d still use the actual title (program manager, in this case), but then after the title, explain the role in a sentence or 2 before you go into bullet points. If you are worried about people reading no further once they see the non-marketing title, think about perhaps bolding some of the marketing words. This is also one of the few cases where I think it is OK, if not advisable, to use an objective at the top or some kind of intro statement.

    Does this help?

  23. HeatherLeigh says:

    Marnie – Hmmm, put it on. Recruiters will search on terms like that. I’d put it under a sepeate section called "Acitivites" or "Memberships" or somehting like that. Just make it work with whatever else on your resume you have that doesn’t call under work or education.

  24. chemonium says:

    Thanks Heather for taking the time to answer.

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